Israel killed four Palestinian children and wounded several others in new shelling on Gaza Strip, medics said, as Hamas formally closed the doors on an Egyptian ceasefire proposal.
Emergency services Ashraf al-Qudra confirmed that the four children were killed and at least five others were wounded, some of whom sought refuge at a hotel used by journalists.
The Israeli army said the killing of four Palestinian children on a Gaza beachfront appeared to be the "tragic outcome" of an Israeli strike targeting Hamas militants.
"Based on preliminary results the target of this strike was Hamas terrorist operatives," the military said in a statement. "The reported civilian casualties from this strike are a tragic outcome."
The deaths raised the overall toll in nine days of violence in Gaza to 213.
The first strike hit at around 1300 GMT, prompting children and adults on the beach to scatter, as others rushed out to see what had happened.
A second and third struck as they ran, setting fire to huts on the beach as terrified children shouted that there were dead and injured.
The strikes appeared to be the result of shelling by the Israeli navy against an area with small shacks used by fishermen.
Several children ran inside the hotel where AFP journalists saw at least three with shrapnel injuries.
They were evacuated by ambulances, which also picked up more injured people from the beach, including one man who was missing part of his leg.
The latest targets came as Hamas officially rejected an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire aimed at ending the conflict with Israel.
Sami Abu Zuhri said Wednesday in a text message to The Associated Press that the group “informed Cairo today officially that we don’t accept the proposal they made.”
Israel had held out hope that the cease-fire deal plan could be salvaged. But Abu Zuhri saidit has been definitively rejected.
Israel accepted the proposal and briefly halted airstrikes Tuesday, but it has renewed them as Palestinian militants continued firing rockets at its territory.
Meanwhile, a Hamas official was to hold talks in Cairo on Wednesday, the Palestinians said.
“A meeting will be held this afternoon between an official from Hamas and a representative of the Egyptian leadership,” said Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior member of the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Ahmad said he hoped the talks in Cairo would “crystalize a definite formula for an Egyptian initiative” or clarify its plan, which had proposed an end to hostilities from 0600 GMT on Tuesday.
[With AFP and Reuters]